The Pipe Bursting Experiment

Back in the 1980s I was contacted by the owner of an apartment complex over in “Apartment City”, the area along Riverside Drive east of I-35 in Austin. The city was requiring them to upsize the wastewater, as it wasn’t adequately handling the amount of flows that the apartment was generating. Evidently a few years before, when the project was built there had been a sizing miscalculation. With it being a nice property with beautifully landscaped yards they wanted the disruption to be held to a minimum.

I made some phone calls and found a company in Louisiana that was pioneering a method called Pipe Bursting. The procedure would call for entering the line on one end and destruct the existing smaller pipe and at the same time replace it with a larger size. The only digging would be on each end of the line. This suited the apartment owner, as it would keep from tearing up his property. Bill Bell, the fellow from Louisiana came to Austin and we pitched the idea to the city. It took several meetings with several people in different departments, but they finally said it was a go.

It was scheduled to take a few weeks before we could begin. Logistics of various sorts. Ordering the pipe, getting pumps setup to bypass the sewer flows and that sort of thing. Our only part was to coordinate the work, do the excavation on each end and restore things when the work was complete.

Then one day I drove by and the project was already underway. Come to find out, Mr. Bell had gone directly to the owner and cut a deal direct cutting me out. While I was annoyed, I can’t say I was really bothered by it, as it wasn’t going to be a big profit to us and it did carry a lot of risk.

I called the fellow, a competitor in Houston that had first turned me on to the guy in Louisiana to tell him how the whole thing came down. He wasn’t surprised he said. Actually the machine and the process had been developed by an old gentleman in Houston, an old contractor by the name of Jess Lovelace that was retiring after several decades in business. He had made an agreement with Mr. Bell to take the equipment and idea and run with it. The only problem, Mr. Bell had run with everything and Mr. Lovelace was left with nothing.

I called Mr. Lovelace and he invited me to come to Houston to visit. I flew there that afternoon. He offered up that we should find Mr. Bell and the equipment that wasn’t in Austin. He and I could become partners in the venture, with him canceling the deal with Bell. I would then just go wrestle away the equipment in Austin, I suppose.

Mr. Lovelace was of an age that he could no longer drive, so I agreed to drive him to Louisiana and find his equipment and see what Mr. Bell was up to. We spent two days in Louisiana trying to find everything we could. We never did find a yard, a job site or anything else that Mr. Bell was involved in.

We returned to Houston and then I came back to Austin. I drove over to that project and evidently something had gone haywire. There were City of Austin trucks and crews all up and down the street. They were trying to keep sewer from running all the way to Town Lake. I couldn’t see anyone from the Bell operation anywhere.

I lost complete interest in the whole deal about then. I’m not sure whatever happened. I just know my name wasn’t attached to any of it. That was the end of my Pipe Bursting Dream.

This is a technic that is widely used around the country now. It has become much more sophisticated and viable.

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